Tycoon found wandering dazed in road in County Leitrim, claiming to have been thrown out of van by kidnappers

The dishevelled and emaciated figure standing in the middle of the road did not look like a millionaire. Barefoot, with long hair and an unkempt beard, the man looked more like a vagrant than the missing property tycoon he was.

When Catherine Vallely stopped her car after spotting him in the middle of the road, she had initially thought the outline of the scrawny figure ahead of her was a traffic cone. "He had red trousers that made me think it was a cone in the middle of the road," she said.

But this roadside debris turned out to be Kevin McGeever, an Irish property developer who went missing more than eight months ago and had not been heard from since June last year, when he was reported missing in County Galway by his partner, Siobhan O'Callaghan.

When Vallely and her partner Peter Rehill picked him up on the Leitrim-Cavan border, he had a one-word insult – reported to be "thief" – carved into his forehead. He told them that three men had thrown him out of a van.

They took the 68-year-old to the local Garda Síochána, where he explained that he was abducted by three masked and armed men from his mansion in rural Galway back in May.

McGeever told officers that the kidnappers had demanded a ransom for his safe release but he did not know whether it had been paid.

The property developer said he could not remember what had happened to him in the meantime but, as he was being released, he was given a mobile phone and warned to keep it with him at all times.

The gardai are now trying to establish whether he had been held across the border in Northern Ireland before he was dumped in County Leitrim.

Vallely was on her way home to Ballinamore with her partner Peter Rehill on Tuesday night when they spotted him in the middle of the road.

"When the man got into our car, he told us he had no shoes on," Vallely told the Irish Independent.

They brought him straight to Ballinamore garda station. The couple said he was unable to tell what month of the year it was or what happened to him during his capitivity.

"A female garda immediately invited him in for a cup of tea. As he was eating tea and biscuits, he asked her if she had any more. He said he hadn't eaten for God knows how long.

"He had a pair of enormous eyes in a very thin face and his cheekbones stuck out. He was rubbing his beard with fingers that had long nails. He was very well educated, well spoken and polite and articulate.

"He was just skin and bones," Vallely added.

She said that soon afterwards a female police officer bought him a bag of curry chips.

Aftewards, the millionaire was taken to Mullingar hospital, where he was treated for malnutrition and dehydration. It is understood that he had lost about five stone – a dramatic drop in weight given his former weight of 16st.

Sources said investigating officers had as yet been unable to determine if McGeever's story was true or not.

One Craughwell resident said most people in the village had never seen Mr McKeever in their lives as he lived in a mansion "behind locked gates".

"We had no idea who he was until this week, I don't know anyone who knew of him," she said.

"Apparently there was a missing poster in the local garda station, but if a person who was a developer goes missing, people presume they are all living the high life.

"It's just the most bizarre thing ever. The mystery thickens."

McGeever originally married in Australia decades ago.

During the Celtic Tiger boom, McGeever ran an international property business selling luxury homes in Dubai to rich Irish and British clients.

He is currently listed in legal proceedings before the high court in a case being taken against KMM Properties, which began in 2009.

Before his ordeal, McGeever lived in a swish property that was christened "Nirvana", and during the boom years of the Irish economy was estimated to be worth well over €3m.

The two security gates decorated with stained-glass features guard the entrance. The property is surrounded by immaculately groomed lawns, a cobble-lock driveway, a separate guesthouse and a glasshouse.

As part of his business selling luxury properties in the Gulf, McGeever set up an office on Mullingar's Ashe Road, where he had staff working for him. He also conducted property deals at the Mullingar Park Hotel, and those who encountered him took to calling him "The Yank" due to a pronounced American accent.

McGeever's initials, KMM, were branded across a EC120 helicopter in which he travelled the country.

When not taking to the air, he had a fleet of high-range vehicles to use – often with personalised number plates: a black SL55 AMG with tinted windows, a grey Porsche 911 GT2, and two H2 Hummers.

Yet despite his wealth, the tycoon liked to mix with the locals, often drinking in a main street pub in Craughwell in County Galway not far from his mansion.

McGeever is the first multi-millionaire to have been kidnapped in the Irish Republic for many years. In the 1970s and 80s the Provisional IRA pioneered the strategy of kidnapping wealthy businessmen to raise finances from ransoms. In 1983, the IRA kidnapped supermarket boss Don Tidey and demanded a ransom of 5m Irish punt. An Irish police officer, Gary Sheehan, and an Irish soldier, Patrick Kelly, were killed in a security operation to rescuse Tidey.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013

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